ST. PAUL — Practically overnight, some Minnesota distilleries have switched from being whiskey and vodka makers to becoming full-fledged hand sanitizer production sites.

Communities are turning to distilleries for their ability to produce high-content alcohol products at a time when traditional commercial-brand hand sanitizers have been all but wiped out from store shelves as a means to combat the coronavirus.

As a result, local distilleries are making sanitizers to donate to those on the front lines. Some distilleries are also making the sanitizers available to the public.

“Some have switched completely over from a distillery to a hand sanitizer manufacturing facility,” said Mark Schiller, president of the Minnesota Distillers Guild. “You go one day from shutting down your cocktail room to the next day being able to produce a health care substance.”

Schiller said things changed exponentially in the past week after the Federal Drug Administration and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Federal agencies lifted restrictions to allow distilleries to make sanitizers and offered guidance, including a recommended sanitizer recipe from the World Health Organization with the recommended 70 percent or more alcohol solution.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

“Now that we actually have guidance and approval to do this — some places were holding off until we had that — many of us have shifted some or all of our entire production capacity of making spirits to hand sanitizers,” said Schiller, who is also co-founder of Loon Liquor Co. distillery in Northfield. “There are health organizations, first responders, day cares and other organizations in Minnesota that are running extremely low on hand sanitizer. Distilleries have the ability, and are starting to fulfill and help the needs of their communities.”

In Minnesota, at least eight distilleries have started making sanitizers, and that number is expected to grow.

Doing so takes an army.

“Essentially there are quite a few hurdles,” Schiller said.

In addition to high-proof alcohols, there are two other main ingredients — hydrogen peroxide and glycerin — in order to make sanitizers. As a result, distillers have been working with companies such as Triton Chemical out of Lakeville to provide supplies to distilleries.

And with making sanitizers comes costs for supplies, and some distilleries are asking for the public’s help with donations. Donation sites such as GoFundMe pages have been set up.

“Everyone is just trying to make sure that they can sustain their efforts,” Schiller said.

He said other challenges have been running out of containers to put product in, so some distilleries have started asking the public to drop off supplies or bring their own containers.

With so many sanitizer production sites starting up in the past week, distilleries are in talks to coordinate efforts to have a centralized place where the public can find information on how to obtain sanitizers. A website is expected to be up and running soon.

As a public service, we've opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status.